When I tell my co-workers that I’m headed off to the mountains to learn stick fighting, I get interesting looks. Whether confused, amused, scared, or skeptical, their faces entertain me. This year was even better because I said I was headed to the North Carolina – Virginia border to learn gun versus knife fighting. From October 1st through the 4th, martial artists from Ohio, Florida, North and South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri gathered together to study, train, and test their skills in Counterpoint Tactical System. Master Zach Whitson, founder of CTS, held the event in Laurel Springs, NC at the lovely Laurel Ridge Camp, Conference, and Retreat Center. That weekend hurricane Joaquin pushed light rain storms up to northern North Carolina. But we persevered and filled out the weekend.
Iron Mountain camp is the annual gathering of Counterpoint Tactical System students from around the country for a weekend of training, laughing, and testing. Master Zach Whitson organizes the camp around five half day training sessions from Friday to Sunday. Each session is allotted a portion of the CTS curriculum that can range from the beginning all the way up to the most advanced material. This year, Master Whitson devoted a day to the black belt Cacoy Doce Pares curriculum. From CTS, Master Whitson covered the panantukan level three and gun versus knife curriculum. These blocks are upper level black belt material, and the exposure to these concepts made a huge impact on the students. For some, it was a first exposure to this material. Regardless of the level experience, these curriculum blocks impressed us all.
Camp is also a chance to advance in rank. Testing is an important part of camp, and outside of exceptional circumstances, all black belt testing is done over the course of that weekend. Testing at camp is fun because it is done in front of multiple talented martial artists that make up the testing board. So, the person testing gets more eyes on their technique and varied notes to improve upon. The testing board is headed by Master Whitson and is made up of the CTS black belts. Usually, testing takes place on Friday and Saturday immediately following the afternoon sessions. Due to the wide spectrum of curriculum testing this year – blue up to fourth degree black belt – a Thursday testing session was added. Testing is both part of and a separate animal from the curriculum part of camp. I, along with five other candidates, stood for the first degree black belt exam.
For me, Iron Mountain camp is the heart of the CTS experience. It is a chance to expand my skill but also to work with and get to know fantastic martial artists from other schools. This is the sixth Iron Mountain that I’ve attended in five and a half years of studying CTS. Camp brings together the best of the martial arts because we engage every part of ourselves. We expand our knowledge; we hone our skills; we test ourselves against each other; and we become close to each other. The social part of camp is worth more to me than the curriculum portions. I love the curriculum; it’s what drew me to CTS in the first place. The people are what keep me coming back year after year.